Monday, February 27, 2012

Basin Bathing Beachside

No, I haven't been abducted here in the Land of Smiles, but between scheduled obligations, some internet connectivity problems and a minor health glitch I've been away from the web for around six days. Those of you who have made it here already know how easy it is to be swept up in the activity and culture around you - and why sitting indoors composing posts isn't all that attractive an option!

I'm off to a Thai beach resort booked by one of my friends where I don't expect to see another farang for a few days, and I have no idea about internet availability there, either, so it seemed only polite to make an offering here today to you kind souls who check in regularly. If it's possible, I'll post again soon.

The young man above works with one of the umbrella chair concessions along the main beach in Pattaya and I took a few pictures of him while there one morning. He was scooping up handfuls of water from a medium-sized basin and washing the sweat and sand off off his face, arms and torso after setting up who knows how many umbrellas and beach chairs.

Neither of us spoke much of the other's language, but what a great smile.  Nice six-pack, too.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jeremy Lin's "Linsanity" in Taipei

The entire area to my right was leaned towards the other larger TV

Passing through Taipei I just witnessed something I've never seen before.  As you can see above, the lounge at Taoyuan airport was close to full this evening, and the two large screen TVs were both tuned to different  news networks.

Evidently there was nothing to report other than what newly-idolized freshman basketball star Jeremy Lin thought about most anything - from basketball to food to shoes.  One report after another after another. There was even one with cartooned diagrams that explained what some of the celebratory moves mean as used in the USA among players - the fist pumps, etc.  Honest to God. It's not in English, but even I understood that one.

His coverage has been going on steady now for over an hour; one somewhat contrived looking report after another, and many eyes are glued to each one. It's nice to see the support he has here, and you can see the joy on many people's faces when they see him on TV... and not just the men who regularly would follow sports, either; the woman picking up used plates and glasses was watching the screen and not what she was doing and dumped the leftover food onto the floor instead of into the bus tray on her cart.

Making my way to Suvarnabhumi - will check in again soon when my schedule smooths out a bit.  I'm going to hit the ground running there, but I'll be around.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Into The Wild Blue Yonder, Bangkok Bound

A view most never see (not my photo)

Well, the countdown has finally worked its way down to zero. After months of anticipation and planning it's finally time to put the blog into its full upright and locked position, fasten my seat belt and prepare for taking off. 

There will be some new lodging to report on, and hopefully another notebook full of stories to share. In addition to the usual days in Bangkok I'll be spending time with the students and families I sponsor, have a few days at a convention, a few visiting a good friend now in a new area and some at a beach bungalow-type resort a friend has reserved for me - where, I'm told, I'll see few other Westerners. 

I'll try to post along the way, but it's going to be a busy few weeks and it's a safe bet I'm going to miss days posting. Keep checking in as your time allows, though, and we'll keep in touch.

Next stop: the Big Mango.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Only Good Thing About Airports Is...

A nun gets a pat-down at a security checkpoint


...All right, hold on... I'm still thinking.  There must be something more than just getting to go someplace you want to go, but it's all I'm coming up with, sorry to say.  No, wait: there's also meeting people you care about who are arriving and waiting for their luggage, or dropping people at the curb who you're pleased are leaving - but why then would you be doing them the favor or schlepping through traffic to take them there in the first place?  I'd say let's stick with the first two, since they're usually pleasant experiences.

An elderly cousin back East passed away a couple of weeks ago.  That's two family members and three close friends in the past five months, if you're keeping track. While I mourned his death (and will think of him often) I wasn't in a position to fly back there as some of my family did. I'll be meeting them at baggage claim in a handful of hours, and hearing tales of what was probably an entertaining memorial, knowing that branch of my family.  I do wish I could have been there, but it wasn't in the cards.

Decades of experience with this more than moderate airport drive has taught me to leave plenty of time for traffic and the unexpected, so I'll be at San Francisco International well ahead of schedule, and that'll allow me time to wander around, people watch and look longingly at the international departure check-in area - where I'll be in about a week, "if the good Lord's a-willin' and the creek don't rise," as a friend used to say.

Back to airports, though - travel since all of the security changes a decade ago just isn't all that pleasant an experience. Most anyone reading this remembers accompanying friends and family out to the boarding gate, having a little more visiting time and then saying the farewells.  I miss that, don't you?

It's discouraging to have to consider what some screener's going to think about what you're about to put into your suitcase, wondering if your carefully packed clothing and toiletries are going to be pawed through before you see them again, after they've been carried away on the conveyor belt behind the check-in counter.

I'd like to see scanning equipment that could view the contents of every suitcase, briefcase, purse and carry-on item as you walked through some sort of gate, without having to stop, open bags up, empty your pockets and take off your shoes.  Who's with me on this? If it caught something that shouldn't be on the plane then they would stop you somehow; maybe with a flying tackle, I don't know. Some kind of scanning reader that did no health damage and covered an area from the floor to 10 feet off the ground, so nothing would get by, unless some exceptionally tall person was walking through it carrying a small parcel raised over their head, and that might warrant a questioning.

It's baffling to me how so many people blithely carry prohibited items up to the security check points and then bitch to high heaven when said belongings are denied passage.  If airports nationwide sold off the pocket knives and other "weapons" alone by lot in auctions once a month it would probably raise enough revenue to make a measurable dent in the National Debt, but who knows where all of this stuff goes.  I'd like to think that the oversize or excess shampoo, liquid soap, toothpaste and the likes make their way somehow to homeless shelters where they could be put to use, but that's probably a rare occurrence, too.

Flying in an extremely dry environment like a plane calls for being hydrated before boarding, but now you have to buy it beyond the checkpoints, and paying three to five times the regular price for it.

It's just a screwy system that shows no sign of being righted within my lifetime, but so it goes. I mean no malice or disrespect to the people who do security work for a living, because that's what it is: a living. It certainly has taken the shine off of air travel for many - me included - but there we are, in our socks, shuffling through the oversize doorways one at a time.

Some of us will be doing it sooner than others, but it's definitely not a part of the journey I'm looking forward to.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Photos: Random Morning Workers

A farang gets a shave in Bangkok

A group of photos offered today, all from a wider date range, and all taken in the morning hours.  Most were taken while out on morning walks, such as the one in the story from the day before yesterday. The one of the two massage girls was taken from my breakfast table at the hotel.

The opening shot is of a friend of mine getting his first shave in Thailand at a shop in the Ratchethewi area where I've always had good luck with haircuts and the likes. My favorite barber left to open his own shop across the Chao Phraya river, though, and now I'm looking for a new shop. I wish him good luck, but I'll miss his barbering skills.  The guy in the picture here is no competition for him at all, sorry to say.

I finally stopped to look at how many bags of ice this boy was carrying in off of a truck after seeing him walk by at least 12 times.  There were another few dozen left in a heap at the tail end of the still half-full truck, and when he was asked how many he still had to take into this one large place he replied "all".  I'd have guessed them to be 15 kilograms (32 pounds) each, at least. Maybe 20Kg, or 50 pounds.

After pulling the tarps off of the front of his stall the young man below swept away the dust (and probably exhaust and street grime) from his wares with a duster.

A couple of Bangkok massage girls sit outside a shop on Suriwongse Road, watching the passers-by while waiting for early customers...

... while a clothing vendor on Beach Road in Pattaya leans on a rack and also waits for his first morning sale.

I think it's nice when a day can begin slowly, don't you?  That may be age talking, but I've never enjoyed having to jump out of bed and start out the day at a dead run on the job.  Even after coffee and the paper.

A pedaling petal peddler putters past
(try saying THAT fast three times)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Sleepless Night And A Day Derailed

Something tells me the corporate office didn't know he was wearing this "customer service" button...

Have you ever had one of those nights where you wake up hours before you'd planned to, lie there for a while tossing and turning and then, in defeat and disgust, throw back the covers and just get up to begrudgingly start your day?  I do, every so often.

Hours before sunrise this morning I got up, made coffee, checked email and a few sites and then sat down to begin pulling together files for a print  order of photos I'll take to friends in Thailand in a few weeks. Despite the lack of sleep I dove into the project full bore, and now I see it's approaching lunchtime and my writing time has again slipped through my fingers.  An unavoidable afternoon of obligations, errands and work here at home other than writing awaits, damn it.

Rather than just skip a day I figured I'd share that little treat of aging many of us deal with on occasion: the occasional sleepless night, or the pre-dawn waking for the day. Makes me cranky, sorry to say, and if I don't practice restraint of tongue and pen I tend to get myself into trouble.

I suspect the 7-Eleven night shift guy working when I came in for water late one night might be flitting about trouble's flame with the button he was wearing, too, but after a bit of pestering he smiled for the photo. I have to admit - when I worked at 7-Eleven back 40+ years ago I remember how easy the "kiss my ass" attitude was to slip into along about 02:00 some nights. Glad those days are behind me!

Anyway, let's try this again tomorrow.  See you then.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Symphonic Soundscape Of A Morning Walk

The rumble of the BTS overhead adds deep bass notes to the symphony

Even though we've covered this before (10 September 2010) now that my travel time is getting a little closer I find my mind wandering wistfully to the mornings I've spent out wandering among the hustle and bustle of people on their morning rounds more than anything else.  In the city it's more active than in the countryside, naturally (you don't hear as many roosters in the cities, for example), but both places are fertile ground for people watching and sounds I just don't hear in the suburbs where much of my everyday life is lived.

A robed monk moves quietly along
through his compound
I love to head out early - sometimes before 06:00 - and then return for breakfast afterwards, although I sometimes eat along the way.  It doesn't take much more than the sweet, yeasty aroma from a waffle cart drifting past to lead me into snacking al fresco, and once I've done that it usually ends up that I add noodles, corn, youtiaw (X-shaped Chinese donuts) a while-you-wait omelet or something else and soon enough I'm full and the buffet back at the hotel is all but forgotten. I guess it does allow me to stay out and about longer.

The ebb and flow of the commute rumble as the lights change and engines rev provides the undulating background for the "music" I think of as a street symphony, and the squeaks of cart wheels, tapping of an auto's warning horns, shouts of vendors and the combined voices of those passing you with a cell phone pressed to their ear all add to it.  Not all that long ago you'd have had the noise of boom boxes dominating the chorus, but I suppose that's one thing to thank the iPod for; ear buds keep things a lot less messy, soundscape-wise.

There are additional tones and percussion involved, of course: the almost omnipresent DING DONG of convenience store door bells whenever someone enters or exits, the squeal and hiss of bus brakes, bursts of laughter from children as they walk hand-in-hand to school, the brush-on-cymbal sound of a rough broom sweeping a sidewalk, the banging and pounding of a construction site and the revving of the commute longboats up and down the canals.  I love it all.

A bridge over a less-traveled khlong makes for a nice place to pause a moment.

There are always pockets of relative calm to be found while I'm out in the mornings. Side-tracking down along through a canal area such as the one above takes you into a different world, and if I happen to find myself near a temple anywhere along the way I tend to veer off track and go inside. Within the embrace of the temple walls the only sound you're likely to hear is the gentle, droning murmur of the resident monks in morning prayer or the quiet steps of someone moving along from one building to another.

 A taxi can be more comfortable, but you miss a lot by not walking.  During commute hours it's sometimes faster to walk than sit in traffic, if you want to know the truth - but I urge you to get out and move about on foot whenever it's practical and your time allows.  I can hardly wait to be back out there.

My time draws closer, and the anticipation grows.

A slice of a morning commute in Bangkok

Friday, February 10, 2012

No Joke - It's Called Johk

Ground pork is spooned from a dish into a hot pot of johk

If you're out walking in the morning - especially in a commute area - you're likely to see a knot of people queued up to buy johk. Chinese would call it congee and some Westerners might call it rice porridge, but johk is a delicious dish, even if it comes in a bag.

Pronounced most closely to the English word "joke" it's basically just boiled (or in some cases twice-cooked) rice, reduced to a soft soup. Johk that's cooked from raw rice tends to have a little firmer consistency - or "tooth", if I may liken it to al dente pasta - than johk made from already cooked rice, but both are good, I think. Both involve boiling the rice to a very soft consistency.

I first had it served to me about 30 years ago by a Taiwanese friend studying here in the US as part of his medical training.  I was visiting him for dinner at his home, and he began the meal with a bowl of chicken-based congee.  I was in love.  No, not with him, that didn't pan out... I meant with the porridge. We've stayed friends, though, and time spent with him in Taipei will probably pop up here at some point.

Ladling johk into a to-go bag
Johk starts out as a very thick glorp that is thinned down with chicken, pork or another flavored broth to be served. Some carts have it already thinned and very hot so the additional ingredients can settle in and/or cook a bit in it while it's in the dish, similar to Vietnamese pho, which I'm misspelling because I don't have an available font with the correct "o", sorry.

Additions to the bowl are most commonly ground pork or little pork meatballs, but they could also easily be duck eggs or chicken eggs (already soft-boiled, not raw or fully cooked), scallions/green onions, grated or chopped ginger and other add-ons that vary from place to place.  Regardless of what's added to it a steaming bowl brings a heavenly scent up to the nose and a smile to the face.

You can add most anything else to it to your personal taste: fish sauce, shoyu (soy sauce), sugar, chilies (dried/flaked or in vinegar) and the likes. Let it steep a couple of minutes to allow the flavors to blend and then have at it.

At the beginning today I made a reference to dishes and bags, so let me clear that up. The stand I used photos of was primarily a to-go or take-away cart, and you can see the guy in the striped shirt holding what looks like an aluminum dish in his left hand.  What it actually is is a funnel with a spout about 2.5 to 3" wide.  He places the funnel into a plastic bag, ladles the johk into the bag, then seals the bag with a rubber band.  The customer then carries the bag off with them to the office or wherever they're headed. You get a better look at the ladling action in the second photo.

I've read that it's a fine preventative for - or help with - a hangover, which is partly why you're likely to see it being sold in the wee small hours of the morning as people stagger towards home.  No joke.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Deuan Pen (Full Moon) - A Song Everyone Knows

The song itself begins at 2:25 in the clip

Some time back I'd posted a clips of Thai TV commercials for Thai insurance, and one featured handicapped children singing "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever will be, will be)".  After asking some Thai friends I'd learned that the 1956 song originally sung by Doris Day in the Hitchcock movie "The Man Who Knew Too Much" was a song many Thai know.

It certainly fits in with the overall mai pen rai attitude most Thai strive for, but it did surprise me to hear a song quite so old still being familiar. It's a good example of a song that's lived on and become recognizable to people in many different places; one example being the regular singing of the song at British football games.

Another song that strikes an even more resounding note in the hearts of many Thai is "Deuan Pen", or Full Moon. It's a song about longing to be "back home"; something we've probably all been able to identify with at one time or another in our lives.

While life in the country isn't as profitable or glamorous as some might guess city life to be it is where many Thai were born and raised - and where their families and homes often remain, waiting for them to return. If you ever notice the song being played or sung while in a crowd, look around you. Along with many joining in to sing along you'll see longing and wistful looks on plenty of faces, and the occasional tear being wiped away.

My favorite version is an instrumental by Saksit Vejsupaporn, a somewhat teeny-bopper singer/pianist who goes by the name of ToR+.  I couldn't find a YouTube clip of him doing it, but I did find one of popular Thai singer Carabao performing it live at a large event, with a spoken introduction by Nawarat Pongpaiboon, the man accompanying him on the khlui (flute).

The lyrics - as translated by - are below:

ดือนเพ็ญ Deuan Penh (The Full Moon)

เดือน เพ็ญ สวย เย็น เห็น อร่าม
deuan pen sŭay yen hĕn à-ràam
The full moon is beautiful and cool and appears to glow

นภา แจ่ม นวล ดู งาม
ná-paa jàem nuan doo ngaam
The sky is bright and beautiful

เย็น ชื่น หนอ ยาม เมื่อ ลม พัด มา
yen chêun nŏr yaam mêua lom pát maa
When the breeze blows the air is cool and pleasant

แสงจันทร์ นวล ชวน ใจ ข้า · ...
săeng jan nuan chuan jai kâa · . . .
The light of the moon causes me . . .

คิด · ถึง ถิ่นที่ จาก มา
kít · tĕung tìn têe jàak maa
. . . to reminisce about the place from whence I come

คิดถึง ท้อง นา บ้าน เรือน ที่เคย เนาว์
kít tĕung tóng naa bâan reuan têe koie nao
. . . [and] to recall the fields and homes where I use to dwell

เรไร ร้อง ดัง ฟัง ว่า · เสียง เจ้า ที่ คร่ำครวญหา
ray-rai róng dang fang wâa · sĭang jâo têe krâm-kruan-hăa
The clamor of the chirping crickets cries out to me in lament

ลม เอ๋ย ช่วย พา กระซิบ ข้าง กาย
lom ŏie chûay paa grà-síp kâang gaai
Oh, breeze, please bring the news [about home] to me . . .

ข้า ยัง คอยอยู่ · ไม่ หน่าย
kâa yang koi yòo · mâi nàai
. . . I am waiting patiently

ไม่ · เลือน ห่าง จาก เคลื่อน คลาย
mâi · leuan hàang jàak klêuan klaai
[My heart] will not stray from [my] home.

คิดถึง มิ วาย เมื่อ เรา จากกัน
kít tĕung mí waai mêua rao jàak gan
I will always remember when we parted

กองไฟ · สุม ควาย ตาม คอก · คง ยัง ไม่ มอด ดับ ดอก
gong fai · sŭm kwaai dtaam kôk · kong yang mâi môt dàp dòk
I hope the fires which warm our buffalo haven't yet died out

จันทร์ เอ๋ย ช่วย · บอก ให้ ลม ช่วย เป่า
jan ŏie chûay · bòk hâi lom chûay bpào
Oh, moon, please tell the wind to blow . . .

สุมไฟ ให้ แรง เข้า · พัด ไล่ ความเยือกเย็น หนาว
sŭm fai hâi raeng kâo · pát lâi kwaam yêuak yen năao
. . . harder [to keep the fires lit]; blow to chase away the chill

ให้ พี่ น้อง เรา นอนหลับ อุ่นสบาย
hâi pêe nóng rao non làp ùn sà-baai
. . . to let our people sleep in comfort

ลม เอ ย ช่วย เป็น สื่อ ให้ · นำ รัก จาก ห้วง ดวง ใจ · ของ ข้า นี้ ไป
lom ay yor chûay bpen sèu hâi · nam rák jàak hûang duang jai · kŏng kâa née bpai
Oh, wind, please help take a message of my heart’s love

บอก เขา น้ำ นา
bòk kăo náam naa
. . . to the hills, fields, and rivers [of my home]

ให้ เมือง ไทย รู้ว่า
hâi meuang tai róo wâa
To let Thailand know that . . .

ไม่ นาน ลูก ที่ จาก ลา · จะ ไป ซบ หน้า กับ อก แม่ เอ ย
mâi naan lôok têe jàak laa · jà bpai sóp nâa gàp òk mâe ay yor
. . . soon your son who has been away will come [home and] nestle once more at his mother’s breast

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Health Tip: Yoong Means Mosquito

Internet image. I don't have that nice a camera.

A tip today for those of you who have somewhat dramatic reactions to the common mosquito bite. I tend to sport rather large welts about two hours after a bite, but it can take up to two days for it to show on some people.  What has happened is that while a  mosquito is getting a drink of your Type O or whatever it is you run through your system she leaves some saliva behind, and said spit contains a protein that causes the reaction in your system.  I said "she" because it's the female whose bite causes the problems.

The Thai name for mosquitoes is yoong, and while they can breed rapidly in standing water any time of year they're more prevalent there from May through September, the general window for the Thai rainy season.  Those are - naturally - also the months where more cases of mosquito-borne Malaria tend to occur.  Mosquitoes are also enthusiastic carriers of dengue fever.  Don't let either of these sicknesses scare you off, but educate yourself and become aware of how to prevent exposure to the best of your ability.

Most tourists aren't out in the rural areas where these diseases are much more common, but it's a good idea to check your home country's online disease control site for advisories, regardless.  A word to the wise and two to the not so wise.  In the USA call your county health department and ask them to look up where you plan to be going, or just go in and let them explain the recommended immunizations or prescribed medications.  Before my first trip to hike Cambodia's ruins I was advised to take Malarone, an anti-malaria drug.

Getting back to mosquitoes, though:  gan yoong (mosquito repellent) is easy to find at any pharmacy, Boots, or Watson's sundries shop, so don't bother to take it with you. The active ingredient for most of these is deet.  My personal favorite is Jaico (to the left above) although the packaging may be slightly different as this picture was from a while back.  It's a milky liquid in a roll-on formula with a 20% deet content.  You don't have to cover yourself with it; just a few stripes of it down your exposed neck, arms or lower legs will work.

I have three friends who swear by the Avon product Skin So Soft bath oil, and while I've had success with it in the US in the past I can't personally vouch for it's effectiveness there... although it probably works just fine.  You can find Avon products in Thailand malls, but you might want to bring a small bottle with you, just in case.

Your best chances of being bitten are in the first few hours after sunrise and in the early evening.  That means if you go for a morning walk in Lumphini Park or a stroll in the evening you'd be well advised to wear some protection, and this time I'm not referring to extremely thin latex.

For those planning to "rough it" in a simple countryside bungalow or local home you'll probably find that there's a phaa moong (mosquito net) in place to use over your bed when you sleep, and if there's one there I suggest you use it. They know their homes better than we do. If you've noticed more mosquito activity around your bungalow than you're comfortable with and there isn't a net, ask for one. If you're staying in a hotel and don't leave windows open on lower floors you probably don't need to give this another thought.

I mentioned in another post about the outdoor seating area of a nice little place in Bangkok called Just One. On my very first evening in Thailand years back (before I knew better than to wear shorts in the evening in Bangkok) I sat with my legs beneath the tablecloth there while having dinner and paid the price for it.

Don't scratch mosquito or other bug bites... it just invites infection. Cover broken skin with a plaster/bandage.

If you find yourself with bites, don't scratch.  Breaking the skin leaves you vulnerable to infection, and if you do scratch yourself open you'd be better off covering it up with a band-aid/plaster.

There are all sorts of home remedies for the itching that comes with a mosquito bite, and if you have one that works for you you might as well stick with it.  If you don't, you might have luck with the anti-itch potion below.  Its active ingredient is Witch Hazel, and it did help me some.  Others say over-the-counter antihistamines have helped, such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, Chlor-Trimeton, or Claratin.   Ice packs can help, too.

The best idea is to try to avoid being bitten in the first place.  In this case an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Up To You!"

I recently noticed this gum in the US, and it made me laugh. If it were on sale in Thailand I'd call it a targeted market!

The Thai are overall a very gracious and easy-going bunch of folks. Generalizations always leave room for debate - and as the fine print often says "your results may vary" - but I've found it to be true a good 90% of the time, and that's a far higher ratio than here in the USA. There are exceptions, of course. City life and interactions with tourists (read: the unpleasant or boorish) can warp most anyone, and there are bad apples in every barrel.

To make another generalization, if you look like a tourist in any type of tourist area you're liable to have a difficult time getting yourself where you've hired a tuk tuk to go without being pressured to stop at a jewelry store, a tailor or perhaps a whorehouse of some sort. If I'm offering suggestions to anyone traveling to Bangkok alone for the first time one of them is to just enjoy watching them howl noisily by from the sidewalk, actually. Away from tourist areas they're better, if you can make yourself understood - but that's another topic for another day.

Thai hair gel at BigC in Bangkok
Today's topic really is more for interpersonal exchanges, and (usually) not for business deals. A fruit cart may well have a hand-made sign showing that something is Bt20 per kilo, but business deals are often open for some bartering. In fact, you're usually expected to barter some. A tip for a Rented Admirer, while intimately personal, is still a business deal, although most times you'll still be left to decide what you think is a fair gratuity for time and effort - "Oh, up to you!"

You've read examples of their good nature here before. They don't want to disappoint or displease you because you're a guest in their country. For example, if you're pointing off to the right while asking a Thai at an intersection  "Is the post office this way?" and they don't know they're just as likely to smile, nod their head and perhaps even say "yes". It may sound charming to you reading this, but if it's 95F/35C and you've already walked a half mile looking for the post office and then go another two city blocks in the wrong direction it isn't as endearing, trust me. At that point, even if you did decide to throw all common sense to the wind and lose your cool  about it [a social No-no] they're long gone, and there's no satisfaction to be had.

I have dear friends there who, after having already discussed and agreed that "I don't know" or "I don't understand you" is a perfectly fair and acceptable answer, will still indicate they understand something. It then soon turns out they didn't, and we back up and try again.  Mai pen rai.

Some of you reading this will hear today's title phrase in Thailand; probably often. "Where would you like to go on your days off?", "What do you want to do?", "Where would you like to have lunch?", "How much should I tip?" and other questions that involve a decision (or a preference) tend to generate the blanket reply of "Up to you".  With a couple of folks there I've learned to say "You know what I'd really like?  I'd like to give you my choice and let you decide."  It's polite, shows some respect, shows generosity (genuine or not) and puts the ball back in their court, so to speak.  It's usually met with a pleased smile and a proper answer.  Usually.

I'm planning a trip there this Spring and have a couple of those returned questions still hanging, awaiting an e-answer.  Adds a little suspense to the plans, I guess. Who knows? I may end up with a free week or two on my hands. I always have more folks I'd like to see than time to be there, so we shall see what happens.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Slums Of Pattaya, Pt 2: The People

Note the boy with his treats as were were heading back to the truck

Yesterday I posted a little bit about the slums around Pattaya, some within blocks of the comfy hotels most of us wake up in; perhaps admiring a beautiful view before waddling our way down to a complimentary breakfast.

A boy carrying his
baby sister
Meeting the people who live there was a little uncomfortable for me, for a few reasons. To start with I speak precious little conversational Thai. More importantly, though, I was dealing with human beings - none of which had woken up one morning and said "hey, I know... let's all give up everything and go live in a corrugated metal shack out in a field of garbage"!  No, these were people who have feelings, too, and both pride and self-consciousness are human feelings.  Thankfully I was taught not to stare or call attention to those who are in any way "different", so that part came naturally to me.

It was somewhat difficult to keep a look of pity off of my face when faced with such abject poverty, though.  Besides, I was silently grumbling as we drove in about heartburn after eating too much at the buffet, and some of these people had undoubtedly gone to bed hungry the night before.  It kind of helps keep things in perspective, if you know what I mean.

I 'd dressed down that day, not wanting to appear to call any more attention to our different economic levels than necessary, and while some of the people who came to get the supplies were a bit self-conscious about it, they were - to a person - welcoming and gracious to we outsiders. Our reception would probably have been a little less so had we not been in the company of the charity folks in their familiar vehicle with the weekly groceries, but I'll never know.  I'd like to think nobody would set the dogs on me.

People waiting patiently for their turn

Word spread quickly that we were there once we'd parked, and the people filed out of their homes and towards us in a quiet and orderly fashion, with none of the pushing ahead I'm used to seeing here in the US for nothing more than food samples at the grocery store. As their names were read from the list they'd come forward, smile and wai and take their food packs without even looking to see what was in it.  It was food, and they were thankful for it.

A woman gratefully accepts groceries from a volunteer

What followed was the more entertaining part - for me, anyway.  There was a small treat or two for each of the children at each stop, and there were plenty of kids.  Some treats were edibles, some were small toys, and although I didn't get a slew of pictures of beaming faces, they were overjoyed to have something new to play with.  Things as simple as those stress-relief squeeze spheres or shaped items you'd get at a convention or trade show were quite a novelty there, as was anything that lit up or blinked.  Small stuffed animals were naturally also a big hit.

Boys and their toys - the same around the globe

Some of you read about my trip to Las Vegas last April to again mingle with 100,000 others at a broadcasting convention (at least one of you did because I noticed your post idea lifted from it) and I regularly pick up a LOT of these child-appropriate giveaway items at conventions to take to Thailand for this very purpose. Trust me - a child in Koh Pai doesn't give a hoot if a bean bag dog says "Sony" on it!

Not to downplay or in any way denigrate the unfortunately impoverished people in my own home country (of which there are many), but coming from a country where conspicuous consumption has been raised so far above an art form that it's become somewhat of a perverse national directive it was really refreshing to spend some times with Thai folks who truly appreciated what they had.

There are millions upon millions of people in need around this weary planet of ours, but like I've said here before: although we can't save the world, we can save little pieces of it.  I was lucky to have been included in one tiny speck of helping a few along that day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Slumming In Pattaya. Really... I Mean IN The Slums

One of the nicer family homes I've visited.

You know, it's so easy to take the most basic of our creature comforts for granted: our homes.  I'd wager almost none of you reading this live in a home that looks anything like the dwelling above, and an entire family lives in it.  I've met them.

For lack of a better word we're blessed that we don't have to.

Homelessness is not nearly as far-fetched a possibility as most of us would like to think, either.  There were over 650,000 homeless people in the United States in 2009, and I don't think things haven't gotten any better here in the past couple of years. Latest figures indicate there are well over 6,000 in San Francisco alone.

The folks in the slums of Pattaya I'm writing about today and tomorrow are essentially mere squatters, often living on land by the grace of stealth or the tacit permission of the landowner, both of which are "iffy", at best. Their domiciles are constructed out of whatever they can locate to bang together.  Those of you who have seen a heavy Thai rainfall can imagine what it's like trying to stay dry in one of them.

The "Happy Feet" movie poster makes for an interesting juxtaposition here.

As you're whizzing along in a baht bus past fields of green overgrowth there may be an entire neighborhood not 50 yards away behind it. Regardless of the circumstances behind them living there, these people are some of the poorest of the poor;  walking miles every day with a pole over their shoulder selling fruit from the baskets hanging at either end, perhaps doing some form or menial labor or doing no more than scavenging through the dump to pick out recyclables to trade in for enough to feed their families.

Hopefully your neighborhood will never look like this one

A charity I've been involved with for a handful of years makes regular rounds to families living in some of the poorest of conditions not all that far from where you'd be likely to stay on a tourist's visit to Pattaya. One trip I took photos on a delivery day to show friends here in the USA who were asking about the students myself and my family sponsor there, and I thought I'd let them see why it was difficult for them to come up with the funds for food, let alone the uniforms, supplies and fees for a year of schooling.

One of my students lives in a home very like the one above. They have one plug inside for electricity, and one tap outside for water, although it isn't potable.  Water stands on three sides of the shack every time it rains, and mosquitoes breed by the tens of thousands. Still, every time I've visited them their clothes are clean and pressed and the insides, while humble, are kept up the best they can.

The charity takes donations from groups and individuals for the weekly food distribution, and there's a rhyme and reason to it; they don't merely drive out into the slum and start handing our the hand-packed bags of rice, tomato paste, cooking oil, ramen noodles, fish sauce and such, but you don't need to know how they keep track of families to make sure the ones they've been helping continue to get help.  They do.

Volunteers I can't reach for photo permission distribute food bags

May I make a suggestion? When you get home tonight and close the door behind you, be grateful for the walls around you and the roof over your head, regardless of how the rest of your day went.  We truly are very, very lucky to be living as well as we do.

Tomorrow you'll hear a little more about the project and see some of the people I meet when I ride along.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

An Explanation Before Moving On

Two images from a flight over Thailand, stitched into one

In looking back, the last couple of posts about my late friend Pee's rise and fatal fall in the go go business were a lot heavier than I'd like the tone of the blog to be - and I'm sorry about that - but his story had been on my mind for some time now. I felt that since he'd passed it might be a way to relieve some of my own sadness, and if it raised the awareness in just one person and saves a single life I'll gladly take the heat for it.

The post from last Friday spoke of me standing high above the shore and watching the waves pounding the rocks below. The shore and the forest are two of my best "thinking" spots, and since it had just arrived in the mail the previous afternoon you can be sure I had that photo of Pee and I in my pocket that day. The disaster the surfers were flirting with on the rocks was another reminder of Pee and his job, although I wasn't quite ready to share about it here just yet.

Likewise the posts from January 19 (On Having a Dream - Especially Today) and the Thai safe sex info in the next day's Better to Light a Candle, both of which were written just after I'd heard that Pee had passed on.

My thanks to those who left comments or sent emails of condolence. I won't publish them here, but I appreciated them. One asked for a photo of him, but that's not going to happen - and anyone who may have met or spent time with him from his Soi Twilight time knew him by a different name, anyway. Pee wasn't a close friend, but he was a friend; one who definitely didn't deserve the cards he was dealt, as far as I could ever see.

Thanks for listening... now let's move forward.